Offending People Left and Right
Bill Bonner, whose Diaries we republish here, is well-known for being an equal opportunity offender – meaning that political affiliation, gender, age, or any other defining characteristics won’t save worthy targets from getting offended. As far as we are concerned, we generally try not to be unnecessarily rude to people, but occasionally giving offense is not exactly beneath us either.
The motto of the equal opportunity offender….
Some people really deserve it after all…which is why we often refer to modern-day central bankers as lunatics, politicians as psychopaths, governments as gangs of highway robbers waving a flag, and so forth. On one occasion we even provided a translation of Mr. Böhmermann’s “abusive criticism” of Mr. Erdogan, which fell afoul of a 19th century lèse majesté law on Germany’s statute books.
That poem really was rude and insulting, no doubt about it. However, locking up journalists and opposition politicians under the pretext that they “threaten national security”, or bombing and suppressing ethnic minorities (for narrow and selfish political goals to boot) seems a lot worse to us.
The person responsible actually deserves to be insulted day and night, and given how thin-skinned Mr. Erdogan is, insulting him is great fun to boot. Admittedly, only as long as one is not within grabbing distance of his enforcers.
Gollum and his twin brother Erdogan – fair game
Similar to Bill, we also believe in equal opportunity offending. Since we are often at odds with the mainstream narrative on a wide variety of subjects, it seems unavoidable. For all their diversity, most of the targets are united by one overarching defining characteristic: they are either exercising power over other people, or dispensing advice to those exercising such power. In our opinion, this makes them fair game.
As has been pointed out in these pages, so-called “political correctness” is essentially an attempt to muzzle free speech and introduce thought control (see “Cultural Marxism and the Birth of Modern Thought Crime” by Claudio Grass for an in-depth discussion of the topic). It also has the uncanny power to transform normally intelligent people into gibbering idiots and pansies (“Reality is a Formidable Enemy” provides a few striking examples).
Unfortunately, equal opportunity offenders are an increasingly endangered species. The world’s densest concentration of powerful and unaccountable statist control freaks in Brussels has just decided that “hate speech” is in need of more policing. Given the salami tactics favored by the eurocracy, this is quite alarming.
“Voluntary” Agreement and Official Goals
The EU Commission and three large US technology companies (Facebook, Google and Microsoft) have just signed an agreement on policing and eradicating so-called “hate speech” – under, you probably guessed it, the pretext of “fighting terrorism”.
Terrorism has become a catch-all very similar to “climate change”. Just as there is apparently no ill in this world that cannot somehow be traced to the latter (global warming is responsible for such diverse evils as heroin addiction, the rise of ISIS, a lack of red-haired people, bear attacks in Japan, collapsing gingerbread houses in Sweden and even global cooling) – there are seemingly no civil liberties that cannot be done away with at the stroke of a pen in order to “fight terrorism”.
Don’t worry, we’ll only muzzle the bad guys!
You won’t be surprised to learn that there has been no public consultation, parliamentary debate or vote on this agreement. It has simply sprung into being overnight. After all, who could possibly be against it? No-one is in favor of hate or terrorism, and since the “code of conduct” agreement is “voluntary” and doesn’t constitute legislation, the EU bureaucrats decided no debate was necessary.
To this one must keep in mind that US technology companies are subject to regular shakedowns by the EU’s “competition commission”, as if competing European companies actually existed. They don’t exist of course, because innovation and capital accumulation have become nigh impossible tasks in the sclerotic socialistic EU.
Normally, big businesses use “anti-trust” laws as a means to bludgeon the competition. In this case though, the shakedowns are initiated by bureaucrats themselves, in the name of protecting non-existing companies. This makes the whole exercise especially bizarre, but no less costly to its victims.
The upshot is though that US technology companies are eager to please EU bureaucrats, so as to avoid getting shaken down again for big money too soon.
The official goal of these restrictions on “hate speech” is to remove messages and postings by jihadists supporting ISIS. These are held to entice impressionable youngsters living in various “no future” ghettos across Europe – the people so eagerly invited in by the very same politicians imposing these restrictions now – to join the IS in Syria or commit violence in its name.
Granted, confused young Muslims surely need and deserve better role models than propagandists of IS and the violent medieval retro-philosophy they preach. The problem is however that what constitutes “hate speech” is very much in the eye of the beholder.
A Problem of Definitions
For once we are on the same page with the usually firmly etatiste pro-establishment magazine “The Economist”, which has surprised us positively with a critical assessment of the EU’s latest move to restrict free speech. As the Economist notes:
[T]he idea has spread that people and groups have a right not to be offended. This may sound innocuous. Politeness is a virtue, after all. But if I have a right not to be offended, that means someone must police what you say about me, or about the things I hold dear, such as my ethnic group, religion, or even political beliefs. Since offense is subjective, the power to police it is both vast and arbitrary.
If one doesn’t agree with someone’s speech, one should simply counter it with more convincing speech. Suppressing views one disagrees with by law (or by means of a “voluntary” agreement as is the case here) may only end up convincing those holding these views that they have to resort to more forceful means if they want to make themselves heard. In other words, more, rather than less violence may be the result.
The “code of conduct” is supposed to be applied to speech identified as “racist and xenophobic” – as if racism and xenophobia could be eradicated by prohibiting people from voicing it!
Immigration is moreover a hot button political issue in Europe right now, so it is easy to see how the charge of “racism and xenophobia” could be misused to simply suppress political dissent. In fact, the vultures are already beginning to circle.
Here is an article by the left-leaning Guardian on the issue, which contrary to the Economist, seems perfectly unconcerned with the free speech angle. In fact, it seems far more concerned with “areas of online abuse” that “remain uncovered by the limited scope of the agreement”!
If you scroll down to the bottom of the article, you will see the following insert on the left-hand side (which links to another article on the topic):
Does this mean we can no longer call militant feminists names? Can we still call Hillary a blood-thirsty war-mongering lying harpy?
As we noted above, the vultures are already circling. The Guardian erroneously asserts that the agreement is “very narrowly worded”:
“The definition of hate speech covered by the code of conduct is narrow: it is defined in the document as “all conduct publicly inciting to violence or hatred directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, color, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin”.
That ban is counterbalanced by the right to freedom of expression, which, the code highlights, covers “not only… ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favorably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population”.
This may indeed seem innocuous at first glance, but it really isn’t. We may agree that the “incitement to violence” part is largely not really contentious. But what exactly constitutes “hate speech”, apart from the general idea that it supposedly “incites hatred”?
Who Decides What Constitutes Hate Speech?
The vagueness of this definition may well invite all sorts of interventions by self-anointed censors. As Paul Coleman writes at Spiked
[T]he European Court of Human Rights once produced a fact sheet on hate speech in which it conceded that the ‘identification of expressions that could be qualified as “hate speech” is sometimes difficult because this kind of speech does not necessarily manifest itself through the expression of hatred or of emotions. It can also be concealed in statements which at a first glance may seem to be rational or normal.’
In another document, the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights took hate speech to include a ‘broader spectrum of verbal acts’, including ‘disrespectful public discourse’. And in an EU-funded manual on online hate speech by IGLYO (the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex Youth and Student Organisation), we are reminded that ‘the vast majority of hate speech is being perpetrated by regular people, not by extremists or radicals’.
To paraphrase Humpty Dumpty, hate speech means just what those in power choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
Free speech has been qualified by V?ra Jourová, the EU commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality (another utterly superfluous job) as “free and ‘democratic’ expression”, according to the Guardian. “Free” alone is apparently not enough
“This agreement is an important step forward to ensure that the internet remains a place of free and democratic expression, where European values and laws are respected.”
V?ra Jourová, EU commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality – arbiter of what constitutes hate speech?
As Mr. Coleman reports, while the commissioner has sprinkled the term “terrorism” liberally across the press release announcing the agreement, her personal views on what should be regarded as “hate speech” (and therefore prohibited and “taken off the web as soon as it is reported”) seem to be a lot less “narrow”:
As V?ra Jourová, the EU commissioner responsible for the code, said during its unveiling: ‘The recent terror attacks have reminded us of the urgent need to address illegal online hate speech. Social media is unfortunately one of the tools that terrorist groups use to radicalise young people and racists use to spread violence and hatred.’
But given the non-definition of hate speech, it is clear the code will go far beyond countering terrorism. In fact, Jourová has confirmed as much in other venues. In October 2015, she addressed the annual conference of ILGA-Europe and said ‘a narrative undermining LGBTI rights is quietly spreading, often disguised as so-called religious principles. This is unacceptable… It is clear that we must fight all hate speech, online and offline, whatever group of society it targets. We will work with internet providers to ensure hate speech is taken off the web as soon as it is reported.’
So, with very little effort, the EU commissioner is happy to shift from countering terrorism to countering ‘so-called religious principles’ – and she bundles up all this ‘unacceptable’ speech under the banner of hate speech.
Perhaps someone can explain to us how exactly this jibes with “the right to freedom of expression, which, the code highlights, covers “not only… ‘information’ or ‘ideas’ that are favorably received or regarded as inoffensive or as a matter of indifference, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the state or any sector of the population”.
It is also worth considering the legal consequences suffered by European citizens falling afoul of already existing legal restrictions on free speech across European countries. Mr. Coleman provides us with several concrete examples:
In 2008, film star Brigitte Bardot was convicted by French authorities for placing a letter to Nicolas Sarkozy online, in which she complained about the Islamic practice of ritual animal slaughter. It was her fifth conviction for hate speech
In 2011, Scottish football fan Stephen Birrell was sentenced to an extraordinary eight months in prison for insulting Celtic fans, Catholics and the Pope on a Facebook page. During sentencing, the sheriff, Bill Totten, told Birrell that his views would not be tolerated by ‘the right-thinking people of Glasgow and Scotland’.
And between 2014 and 2016, 78-year-old Northern Irish pastor James McConnell endured an 18-month police investigation and criminal prosecution after criticizing Islam in a sermon that was posted online . Apparently he was acquitted because his comments were ‘offensive’ but not ‘grossly offensive’ – a legal standard that nobody can be expected to understand or follow.
With the new code of conduct in place, we can expect more cases like these before the courts, and a lot more censorship. The powerful have spoken and the rest of us will be forced into silence.”
Brigitte Bardot – has five convictions for “hate speech” to her name by now
People in Europe may generally have less to fear from running afoul of the State’s censors than people in many other even places in the world, but this strikes us as bad enough.
Note as an aside to this that people questioning the officially sanctioned history of the Third Reich can be thrown into jail for years in Germany and Austria, especially if they are repeat offenders. We are anything but fans of Hitler and fascism. We despise the Nazi ideology and are horrified by the crimes committed in its name. We do however believe that even the most odious views should be open to debate. The truth should not be in need of legal protection.
Americans should be very happy that the constitutional right to freedom of speech has so far been held in far higher regard by the US legislative and judiciary than anyone’s alleged “right” not to be offended. This is one of the things with respect to which the US remains a shining light and an example to the world worth following. Don’t let them ever take that right away.
Speech is either free or it isn’t. One cannot have it both ways, as the EU apparatchiks apparently think. As soon as restrictions on free speech are introduced, abuse is sure to follow.